Nightcrawler, Red Rocks, Nevada, USA
"Pitch 3. Lieback and stem the amazing dihedral. 150 ft. 5.10".
That was it for me. I had to do this climb. Ok, now where is it? Brownstone
Wall in Juniper Canyon, 1.5 hour approach. No problem, but better get moving
and find a partner.
'Chuck, do you have a partner for today?' Esther asked with perfect timing as
we both leaned against the balcony railing of our Bonnie Springs Motel room.
'No, check out the description of Nightcrawler'. A brief glance and she was
sold and wanted to do the first pitch. Greg wandered over about then looking
for a partner and I invited him to join us. The mission and the participants
were set, now it was time to fly into action and escape the tentacles that 8
people in a comfortable motel suite generate. 'Do you want some more
breakfast?' 'Will you help me find something?' 'Chuck, can we use your car
today' 'Have some more coffee'. A few moments later, but seemed like an
eternity, the three of us were on our way.
One last check at the trailhead for the necessities and we were walking down
the Pine Creek trail towards Pine Creek Canyon. About a half mile in, we
turned south onto Fire Ecology Trail loop. After crossing Pine Creek, we lost
the main trail and we were on our own. Fortunately, we could see our first
checkpoint, the mouth of Juniper Canyon. There were many emerging trails
across the desert, each one demanding that we make it our choice and by making
it a little more distinct, it would gain *** over the other trail
At the mouth of canyon, we got out the guidebook and tried to locate our climb
at the back of the canyon. Still could not see it. It was going to be a long
hike. I wanted to determine if it was in the sun. If it was, then we would try
to find something else back there that was in the shade. Like a lot of narrow
canyon mouths, this one was filled with large boulders and brush. A few
minutes of tricky boulder hopping and brush thrashing, got us onto a good
trail and we made good time up the large mound just inside the canyon mouth.
At the top of the mound we got our first look at the climb. It was stunning.
About a half mile away, we could see the Hourglass formation lying against a
smooth face. Our climb ascended the right side and looked like a fantastic
line. 'Damn it, its directly in the sun' I muttered, but a few moments later
I realised that that as the sun moved, the top three pitches would be
completely shaded by the dihedral. We seemed to be the only ones in the
canyon. We were living a charmed life. Now all we had to do was negotiate the
heavy brush that protected the slab that led to the base of the climb. Part
way up the slab, we started to feel the effects of the sun and made a beeline
for the nearest tree for a water and photo break. We were only a few hundred
yards from the climb now and enjoying the shade and stunning views.
I began to hear some voices coming from the mouth of the canyon and relived
the agony of waiting behind slow parties the previous day on Frogland. I
bolted up and started walking rapidly up the slab, leaving the others behind.
As I frequently do, in these situations, I imagined the worse. The other party
had seen us and, realising that we were a party of three, began sprinting for
the base of the climb. Of course, I feared they were approach athletes but
snail climbers and I was sinking into quicksand. I desperatly did not want to
hike for two hours and be overtaken so close to the climb. I reached the base
of the climb and began to flake the rope out to further cement our position on
the climb. Esther and Greg arrived soon after. As we were getting ready, we
caught a glimpse of the other party. They were headed for another climb,
probably Black Dagger. Once again my wild paranoid imagination had gotten the
best of me but at least it provided incentive to get us to the climb sooner.
Now we could turn our complete attention to the climb.
The first pitch led to the base of the dihedral and was a series of broken
cracks. The top half of the pitch was surprisingly enjoyable because of the
steepness and positiveness of the holds. A small traverse at the top that led
to the belay was the crux and seemed harder then it's 5.6 rating. Esther came
up next and since the belay stance was small we decided to do the next pitch
and then Esther would bring up Greg.
I had feared the second pitch because there was a chimney involved and the
pitch was rated 5.9. Easy climbing led to the base of the chimney. The
chimney looked runout and scary. While fondling my #4 Camalot, I began to see
some chalk on a huge block to the right. I recalled some sage advice someone
had given me about chimney/offwidth technique which was to look for a way to
climb around it. I still did not see any pro but started up the face of the
block with the hope that some would appear or the climbing would be very easy.
A couple of elegent 5.9 moves with some stemming back to the mouth of the
chimney led to a tiny, off balance stance. I desperately wanted a bomber
piece now because the rest of this section appeared to be difficult. I
decided to take a peek around to the right of the block and discovered a
placement for the large Camalot. A long sling would reduce the rope drag
through here. Now I regained some courage to continue up the block. 20 feet
of wonderful 5.9 face climbing led past a couple of good TCU placements. Now
the climbing got easier and I got to a good stance. The intense concentration
of that section drained me and I wanted to be at the belay but could not see
any slings or bolts. I asked Greg, who was on the ground, to check the topo.
He correctly pointed out that the belay was about 30 feet higher where a ramp
led off to the right away from the dihedral. A fantastic right leaning crack
system led to a great belay ledge with a difficult off balance move at the
end. Wow. What a terrific pitch and I could now see the amazing dihedral
As I was bringing up the rope, I could see Esther bring up the bottom rope.
She had accumulated a fair amount of rope which puzzled me because the first
pitch had been quite long. 'Esther, is Greg tied in?'. Oops. Now the bottom
of the rope was about 30 feet up from Greg who had been busy getting ready and
did not notice. Several attempts to lower the rope failed. Since the
climbing was easy, Greg soloed up to the rope, tied in and finished the pitch.
I took great pleasure in watching Esther climb the second pitch and started to
realise she was climbing very well. We had last climbed Hospital Corner at
Lover's Leap nearly 2 years earlier and she had improved greatly. She did not
attempt to take out the large Camalot since it was around the corner and was
out of her reach, but cleaned all the other pieces. I could see that she was
having a challenging, but great time on this pitch. As Esther brought up Greg
I racked the pieces back onto my harness. Greg did an amazing job on the
second pitch with nothing to clean but the Camalot. He looked like he was
floating as he smoothly climbed the steep block with an occasional stem and
back step back to the mouth of the chimney. He was climbing so smoothly and
since I was a bit drained from the second pitch I briefly considered asking
him if he wanted to lead the third pitch. But I came to my senses. The next
pitch was the attraction that brought me out here. I was determined to do it.
The next pitch looked incredible. And it looked hard. Esther said she might
have to cry on it but I thought not before I do. A clean, slightly undulating
dihedral with beautiful black rock faces on either side. A small remnent of
the chimney remained from the second pitch but a 20 foot long thin crack
opened up on the face about 6 feet to the right of the dihedral. Just to the
right of the finger crack was a small left facing book which faced the
dihedral. After the finger crack ended I could see the first of the 6 bolts
that protected the thin sections of the dihedral. Easy climbing led to the
finger crack and I placed a piece there. Now what to do? Do I straight in
climb the finger crack or try to stem? It did not seem possible to stem yet.
The crack was only finger tip size at the bottom and the feet would be
difficult making straight in climbing hard. I tried to go straight up and made
some difficult moves but this did not seem right. I saw a small hold off to
the right and tried to make use of it, hung in for a while but popped off. I
could now shake out and reconsider. Things were not looking good. A little
talking with my partners gave me my next plan. A few finger tip lieback moves
up the crack allowed me to get my fingers in the crack. Now I could get into
a good finger lieback while stemming from the dihedral to the little book on
the right of the crack. Now place a bomber tcu. Nervousness was making me
breath heavily. Now bring both feet against the little book and make a
lieback move up the crack. 'Good move' Greg says. Of course, thats my signal
to fall and a foot slips off the book. Thats fall #2 and I muttered to myself
about thats how this would be. OK, try again, this time concentrating on the
footwork. It works. Make a couple of lieback moves with both feet against
the book on the right, then stem back to the dihedral and place a piece in the
finger crack. Now I was nearing the end of the crack and the first bolt was
still 10 feet higher. The finger crack seemed to be getting farther away from
the dihedral but the chimney had now narrowed down so that the big Camalot
could fit. Again, lieback the finger crack then stem. In the stemming
position, I folded my left leg in and sat against my foot while pushing with
my right leg against the little book. I was so comfortable, and both hands
were now free. I briefly thought about how amazing this position and location
was but decided I had better place the Camalot quickly before something popped
off. One hard move to a good edge and I was now in pure stemming mode.
Little edges began to appear at just the right time as I passed three bolts.
Now a little ledge about the size and shape of a foot stool appeared in the
dihedral. It seemed like a small version of the Glowering Spot which is in a
dihedral on the Nose of El Cap. Now I could now get a complete no hands, both
feet flat on flat ground, rest. Thats the good news. The bad news is that
the next protection isa bolt just over 8 feet above the ledge.
The hanger of the bolt was bent down as if it had been repeatedly fallen on.
As you stand up and try to reach the bolt the dihedral pushes you out making
it a very balancey scary clip since the last pro is just below your feet. Why
would someone place a bolt so high off a ledge with a very difficult move to
get past the bolt? Others suggested to me that maybe at one time it might
have been easy to get to the bolt because there might have been hold in the
dihedral. Now there was nothing. I held the biner of a quick draw at the end
with my finger tips while gaining a little balance using my left hand on a
tiny disturbance, stood on my tiptoes and clipped the bolt. With that
essential chore done, I could give my full attention to the next move.
Even with the bolt, a tiny crack opened up in the dihedral. With one finger
tip wedged in the crack, I stepped up an inch or two on a slanting foot hold,
then made a dynamic move with the left handand snagged the widening crack
above, pausing briefly to let the animals out of the barn. More exquisite
stemming and a sloping belay ledge is reached. Now to bring up Esther.
Again, she climbs really well, stemming the lieback section and cleaning the
pro without a fall or rest. She is breathing heavily but does not give up
anywhere. At the mini Glowering Spot, she cannot reach the tiny crack and has
to pull up on the quick draw, her only aid of the day.
The ledge is too uncomfortable for three so I start the next pitch which
consists of more 5.10 dihedral stemming and liebacking. Fortunatly the pitch
is short. Unfortunatley, I'm tired and start placing a lot of gear, run out
of TCU's and have to be lowered back down to backclean. The top of the
Hourglass is reached and I can take a long rest while Esther brings up Greg.
A few minutes later I hear a terrible cammotion. Greg could not get his
fingers in the finger crack on the third pitch and took a fall with a little
loose rope out and with rope stretch, pulled Esther off her belay stance.
Fortunatley, everyones OK.
Esther tells me I left my belay device in her anchor and not wanting to use a
body belay, I rig up a biner brake to belay her. Again she climbs well, at
one point asking for tension but she seems to climb through without resting.
Greg climbs this pitch well also and soon we are all together on top. We take
a group photo with Greg holding the disposable camera out in front of us then
start the raps.
Lessons learned, memories made, challenges met, adventures shared.
Just another day of climbing.
Berkeley, CA USA